Wednesday, June 18, 2008

On Boasting - Part 2

"'Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.' For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends." - 2 Corinthians 10:17-18
In On Boasting - Part 1, I brought up six different areas of boasting in which we Christians may find ourselves involved. These are very subtle sins that we have tended to accept as normal in our Christian culture, but which I believe - and the Bible states - are sins with which we need to confront in our sanctification process. The first two that I will cover in this post are: boasting in our faith and boasting in moral self-righteousness.

Boasting in our faith
This is a particular danger for the evangelical Christian. For the most part, we know that we are not saved by works (Romans 3:28). We have been taught that in the church many, many times. But faith is
the distinguishing mark of the evangelical Christian. So, even though we have been taught there is to be no boasting in heaven, and even though we do not want to boast, when pressed in our doctrine, Christians will often admit that in the final analysis the reason that we are going to be in heaven, and another person is going to be in hell, is that we believed God and trusted Jesus (Acts 16:31) while those who are perishing spurned Him (2 Thessalonians 2:10). James Montgomery Boice puts it this way in his commentary on Romans 3:
"Sometimes evangelicals express their ideas in the following fashion. They say that God first gave the law to see if anyone could keep it. But since no one did or can, God now comes to us with a slimmed-down or much-facilitated gospel, as if he were saying: 'I know you can't keep my law. So let me ask instead for something you can do. Just believe in Jesus. If you believe in Jesus, I'll save you.'"
I'm sure you can see what is wrong with that idea. That makes faith into a work that we must do on the basis of which we are saved. And if that were the case, there would be grounds for boasting. But that is not what faith is. In D. Martin Lloyd-Jones exposition of Romans, he writes:
"Faith is nothing but the instrument of our salvation. Nowhere in Scripture will you find that we are justified because of our faith; nowhere in Scripture will you find that we are justified on account of our faith. The Scripture never says that. The Scripture says that we are justified by faith or through faith. Faith is nothing but the instrument or the channel by which this righteousness of God in Christ becomes ours. It is not faith that saves us. What saves us is the Lord Jesus Christ and his perfect work. It is the death of Christ upon Calvary's Cross that saves us. It is his perfect life that saves us. It is his appearing on our behalf in the presence of God that saves us. It is God putting Christ's righteousness to our account that saves us. This is the righteousness that saves; faith is but the channel and the instrument by which his righteousness becomes mine. The righteousness is entirely Christ's. My faith is not my righteousness and I must never define or think of faith as righteousness. Faith is nothing but that which links us to the Lord Jesus Christ and his righteousness." (emphasis mine)
Have you ever thought of yourself as more enlightened or somehow smarter or closer to God because you decided to follow after Him, and those worldly people (or this one particular sinner) cannot seem to get it? Beware of this line of thinking. For you have not been saved because of anything inherently better in yourself. If God had not "made you alive together with Christ" (Ephesians 2:4-5), you would be just as condemned as those others.

Boasting in moral self-righteousness
Jerry Bridges, in his book Respectable Sins:Confronting the Sins We Tolerate, says this about pride in moral self-righteousness.
"The sin of moral superiority and self-righteousness is so easy to fall into today, when society as a whole is openly committing or condoning such flagrant sins as immorality, easy divorce, a homosexual lifestyle, abortion, drunkenness, drug use, avarice, and other flagrant and scandalous sins. Because we don't commit those sins, we tend to feel morally superior and look with a certain amount of disdain or contempt on those who do. It's not that those sins I've mentioned are not serious sins that are tearing apart the moral fabric of our society. Indeed, they are serious, and I respect those Christian leaders of our day who raise a prophetic voice against them. But the sin we ourselves fall into is the sin of moral self-righteousness and a resultant spirit of contempt toward those who practice those sins. In fact, Jesus told the parable about the Pharisee 'to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt' (Luke 18:9)."
I would venture to say that the sin of moral self-righteousness is one of the most prevalent sins within Christian communities today (I sure do see that it is the sin that I struggle most often with in the area of boasting). And because it is so common among Christians, that makes it even harder to detect in our lives because we are all practicing it to some degree. We even seem to get some enjoyment out of describing amongst ourselves how bad our society and the world has become. When we do this, we are falling into the sin of moral self-righteousness.

James 2:10 says, "For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it." And Romans 2:23-24 says, "You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, 'The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.'" You see, by looking on others as less morally righteous than us, we have condemned ourselves and dishonored God before the world.

There are several ways that scripture has given us to help us in dealing with this particular sin, but I would like to focus on two:
  1. Identifying ourselves as sinners with mankind. This is given to us as example by several Biblical leaders, but I'd like to bring up just one. Ezra was a scribe who was tasked with teaching the people of God (after they returned from their captivity in Babylon) the law of God. When he saw how evil God's people were, he identified himself with those who were evil when presenting them before God. In Ezra 9:6, he says, "O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens."
  2. Seeking to be humble in every situation. We must continue to strive to be humble, because that is the example that Christ has given us (Philippians 2:3-8). An attitude of humility not only puts others first, but it recognizes our position before the God of heaven: we were sinners by nature before we were even born (Psalm 51:5), and we can easily identify ourselves with Romans 3:10-12 which says, "None is righteous, no, not one...All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one." It is only by the grace of God that we are kept from, or maybe have been rescued from, the flagrant sins that we condemn.
I trust that God has been speaking to your heart as you read about the sinfulness of boasting. He has sure been working on me in this area. I am not free from pride or boasting in my life, especially the kinds that we are talking about here. I want to make sure that you understand that, because I am mindful of the passage in Romans where Paul tells those to whom he writes, "you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself?" (Romans 2:21a). Please join with me in asking God to reveal to us the pride that He sees in our lives, so that we may grow in sanctification together.

Next time: How do we boast in correct doctrine and our life circumstances (whether good or bad)?

1 comment:

Jeff said...

So true. In my observation, one of the most insidious dividing lines between "us" and "them" is our perceived moral superiority. We don't commit adultery, we don't watch pornographic movies, we don't get drunk, we don't swear. But although a boon to our pride, all such comparisons are false. The distinction is one of degree, not of kind. Like a group of petty thieves, priding themselves that they don't commit grand theft. How silly.